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Two Googles: One for EU, another for the rest?

Craig Timberg (via WP Bloomberg and AFR) | April 26, 2013
There soon could be two Googles: One built for Europeans, with links to rival search engines and labels alerting users whenever Google is featuring its own products.

The FTC declined to comment. Former chairman Jon Leibowitz, who oversaw the unanimous Google ruling before resigning in February, did not respond to queries about the action of European regulators.

Google spokeswoman Samantha Smith said, "We continue to work cooperatively with the European Commission," but she declined to comment further.

European regulators released the 61-page settlement proposal from Google, including mock-ups showing how results pages could change. Although such web pages once had only a series of blue web links generated by algorithms, Google has for years increased the percentage of its pages filled by paid advertisements and links to its services, such as Google Shopping, Google Places and Google News.

The proposed changes are not so dramatic that an American signing on to Google from Paris would be startled by the differences. But through a series of subtle cues - outlined boxes, altered wording and links that lead users to competing search engines - European regulators aim to give users more information. The most noticeable changes are proposed links to other specialised search engines, such as shopping or travel search sites, giving consumers an easy way to move from Google in a quest for better results.

Critics said these links, which Google would sell in auctions, don't give nearly the prominence and visibility enjoyed by the company's product links, which include pictures and prices when users search for cameras, televisions or other shopping items.

David Vladeck, a Georgetown University law professor and former head of consumer protection for the FTC under Leibowitz, declined to directly address comparisons between the approaches of the different regulatory bodies but said the proposed changes to results pages would not dramatically change how most users experience Google.

"I don't think at the end of the day it's going to make much of a difference," Vladeck said. "These are essentially cosmetic changes."

The European settlement proposed by Google acknowledges no wrongdoing and would trigger no fine, although if the company later violated the terms of an agreement with regulators, they could impose a levy equal to 10 per cent of global revenue.

The proposal also includes new limits on the search engine's ability to aggregate and display content produced by other companies, and it requires that marketers be able to easily move their ads to rival services. These changes resemble concessions Google made to the FTC as it closed its investigation

 

 

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